Michelle Obama hosting Punch Pizza CEO and worker at tonight's State of the Union

The pizza oven at Punch Pizza's St. Paul/Highland Park location

The pizza oven at Punch Pizza's St. Paul/Highland Park location

Punch Pizza CEO John Soranno and employee Nick Chute have been invited to attend the State of the Union address tonight as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama. The local company recently bumped its store employees' minimum wage to $10 an hour, and tonight's invitation is a national nod from an administration eager to introduce a higher federal minimum wage. 

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"It's the coolest thing," Soranno says. "We're this little company being recognized on the biggest stage. It's like being the needle that's found in a haystack."

As President Obama works to win support for an increased federal minimum wage (up to $10.10 an hour by 2015), smaller businesses already increasing wages are being looked to as models. 

Soranno says he and his partner John Puckett looked at businesses like In-and-Out Burger and Costco and were inspired to increase Punch Pizza's minimum wage. He feels valuing employees this way syncs up with his overall hopes for the company. 

"Higher wages is just one thing," he says. "We want to do everything better -- from quality food to well-trained, enthusiastic cooks. A higher wage just helps motivate the workers we have to get us there." 

As to whether or not Soranno now believes his business is a model to follow, he doesn't seem too ready to throw open any windows and preach to others. His mind is just on the next pie heading for the oven.

"We're just going to do the same thing tomorrow as what we did today," he says. "Only make it better." 

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